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Persuasions by Corporate and Activist NGO Strategic Website Communications: Impacts on Perceptions of Sustainability Messages and Greenwashing

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The present research was guided by the important need for a diversion from an economistic to a humanistic management perspective of sustainability. It concentrates on the current importance of digital strategic communication, particularly regarding the concept of corporate sustainability in the context of the conflict arena of the oil industry. The focus is on the comparison of the persuasive effectiveness of the framings of corporate versus activist NGO website communications and their impacts on the perception of the triple pillars of sustainability and, corporate greenwashing with respect to a proposed bituminous oil pipeline in Canada. The results of these pro and con messages were analyzed within the Elaboration Likelihood Model demonstrating a “non expert” peripheral route to a positive persuasion from exposure to the corporate communication versus an “expert” central route to a negative persuasion from the activist NGO communication. Subsequent exposure to the opposite website communication further emphasized the predominance of a negative persuasion based on both groups now being motivated as “expert” viewers of these strategic communications, leading to an important perception of greenwashing by participants resulting from vague claims, visual and linguistic contents of the corporate communication versus the mainly verifiable factual ones in that of the activist NGO.

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This research is a pertinent activity within Dr. Paulin’s Royal Bank of Canada Professorship in Strategic Relationship Marketing.

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Correspondence to Ronald J. Ferguson.

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APPENDIX (Questionnaire scale items)

APPENDIX (Questionnaire scale items)

  1. A.

    Triple Sustainability Values

“To what extent do you Agree or Disagree with the following statements about the proposed pipeline” (1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Somewhat Disagree, 3 = Disagree, 4 = Neither Agree nor Disagree,5 = Somewhat Agree, 6 = Agree, 7 = Strongly Agree).

Environmental Safety? (α = .84).

-- The safety of the proposed pipeline can be adequately monitored.

-- The possibility of a pipeline leak is negligible.

-- Any pipeline failure would be immediately detected and the consequences would be minimal.

-- A pipeline leak of diluted bitumen would be no different from regular crude oil.

Economic Benefits? (α = .77).

-- Many permanent jobs will be created in Eastern Canada.

-- Pipeline oil is destined mainly for Eastern Canada refineries for domestic use.

Community Relationships? (α = .86).

-- A majority of Quebec municipalities support the pipeline.

-- Relationships with aboriginals and First Nations are very cordial regarding the pipeline project.


“To what extent do you Agree or Disagree with the following statements about the proposed pipeline:” (1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Somewhat Disagree, 3 = Disagree, 4 = Neither Agree nor Disagree,5 = Somewhat Agree, 6 = Agree, 7 = Strongly Agree) (α = .95).

-- making false or misleading claims that the pipeline is environmentally friendly.

-- deceiving society with false statements about the environmental practices and impact of the pipeline.

-- selectively disclosing positive environmental information, while withholding the negative information about the pipeline.

-- selectively disclosing positive social performance, while withholding negative social performance about.

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Ferguson, R.J., Schattke, K. & Paulin, M. Persuasions by Corporate and Activist NGO Strategic Website Communications: Impacts on Perceptions of Sustainability Messages and Greenwashing. Humanist Manag J 6, 117–131 (2021).

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